Federal immigration agency turns to El Paso migrants' shelter for help

Federal immigration agency turns to El Paso migrants' shelter for help

"Necessity often results in unexpected relationships, and that's one way to describe the connection between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Annunciation House in El Paso, a shelter for undocumented immigrants.

Ruben Garcia, the shelter's director, said that as the federal government's El Paso-area detention center swells with immigrants, particularly those seeking asylum, there is a desperate need to house those whom officials have decided not to detain but who still must navigate what can be a daunting bureaucracy until their plight is determined.

For 34 years, the Catholic-run center has been a respite for immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, a scant 10 blocks away. Garcia said the unlikely relationship between Annunciation House and ICE -- and its precursor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- has been going on for more than 25 years.

ICE is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; INS was folded into the department several years ago.

"They (federal agents) used to drop immigrants off a few blocks away and point in our direction for them to walk to," Garcia said. "Our doors are always open and they know it."

He said on one particularly cold El Paso night, a U.S. Border Patrol agent tapped on the house window and motioned to a van of immigrants who were just picked up and had no place to go.

"Of course we took them in," Garcia said. "Annunciation House has been privileged to bear witness to the evolution of immigration."

Through the years, the relationship with ICE has evolved from covert to more overt referrals." - CNS, Feb. 14, 2012.